Australia overcame a gallant England side 18-4 in a tight opening Rugby League World Cup clash in Melbourne on Friday night.

The Kangaroos scored three tries to one but England showed it was more than capable of matching its old foe.

While the result didn't go England's way its bigger concern will be the fitness of star forward Sam Burgess, who was sidelined in the first half with a knee injury.

The home side set the tone with a bruising opening set in defence but it was the English who scored first, winger Jermaine McGillvary crossing in the corner in the fifth minute from a sweeping England backline movement.

The Kangaroos then dominated possession over the next 10 minutes to force three repeat sets of six but England managed to hold its line.

A couple of unforced errors led to Australia's first try with Matt Gillett scoring in the 22nd minute off a Cameron Smith cut out pass.

Billy Slater scored on the right edge eight minutes later after Sean O'Loughlin conceded a penalty late in the previous set. 

England remained in the contest and pressured the Kangaroos' line in the second half, but when Australia was awarded a penalty within striking distance it took the two points through the boot of Smith to extend its advantage to eight.

Josh Dugan's 70-metre run within a minute to go capped off Australia's victory.

MATCH DETAILS

AAMI Park, Melbourne

Australia Kangaroos 18 (Matt Gillett, Billy Slater, Josh Dugan tries; Cameron Smith 2 conversions, penalty).

England Lions 4 (Jermaine McGillvray try)

Halftime: 10-4 Kangaroos.

Referee: Matt Cecchin (Australia).

Crowd: 22,724.